Britain has witnessed a spate of racist incidents in the aftermath of a vote for the country to withdraw from the European Union, ranging from “Leave the EU” flyers left at the homes of Polish residents and altercations at public places to graffiti and banners directed against immigrants.
The country is grappling with the political and economic ramifications of the vote for Brexit in the June 23 referendum. Several experts have argued that xenophobia, and not economic reasons, was a key reason for the “leave” vote.
Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned on Monday against abuses directed at immigrants.
“This government will not tolerate intolerance. We are absolutely clear on the need to reassure communities across Britain. We are a tolerant nation; that existed long before we were members of the European Union, and we should hold fast to that,” the prime minister’s spokeswoman said in a statement.
Khan ordered Metropolitan Police to be “extra vigilant”, and said: “It’s really important we stand guard against any rise in hate crimes or abuse by those who might use last week’s referendum as cover to seek to divide us.”
Police in Cambridgeshire are investigating reports of laminated signs reading “Leave the EU - No more Polish vermin” being left at the homes and on cars of Polish residents in Huntingdon. The flyers were apparently distributed on Friday, hours after the result of the referendum was announced.
The Cambridge News reported that cards with the same slogan as the flyers, in English and Polish, were found outside St Peter’s School in Huntingdon by students, including an 11-year-old Polish child, who said they made him feel “really sad”.
On Sunday, Metropolitan police were called to investigate after the words “F*** off OPM” were scrawled across the entrance of the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) at Hammersmith in west London.
Police officials said they asked to investigate an “allegedly racially motivated criminal damage” and inquiries were ongoing.
The Polish are the largest foreign-born population in Britain and community leaders expressed shock and outrage at the incidents. Polish ambassador Witold Sobków said the issue would be discussed in talks on Monday and asked politicians to condemn what had happened.
Jessica Sheridan of Manchester was concerned for her safety after confronting a man shouting abuse in the street, the Daily Express reported. She said: “There was a man saying ‘Rule Britannia…the foreigners can f*** off now’.”
Sheridan, 25, said: “Then he said ‘This is f***ing Britain again now.”
Welsh businesswoman Shazia Awan said she was told to “pack her bags and go home” in an attack on Twitter. Awan, who backed the Remain side in the referendum, had tweeted: “Don’t see how this country can heal itself. The UK is my home yet I feel alienated.”
Twitter user Warren Faulkner responded to Awan’s tweet by posting: “Great news…you can pack your bags you’re going home…BYE THEN!”
The racist incidents occurred despite those campaigning for Brexit giving clear assurances before the vote that a new immigration system would not affect EU citizens legally living in Britain.
Following the referendum result, Conservative Party leader Sayeeda Warsi said immigrants were being stopped in the streets and told to leave Britain.
“I’ve spent most of the weekend talking to organisations, individuals and activists who work in the area of race hate crime, who monitor hate crime, and they have shown some really disturbing early results from people being stopped in the street and saying look, we voted Leave, it’s time for you to leave,” Warsi told Sky News.
“And they are saying this to individuals and families who have been here for three, four, five generations. The atmosphere on the street is not good.”
Warsi, the former chairwoman of the Conservative Party, initially backed the Leave campaign but switched over to Remain, saying the other side was “divisive and xenophobic”.